The sins of the father, an oft-used expression, places fatherhood in a veritable recycle bin. By implication, it suggests that most things – not simply the DNA code – are passed down to the next generation. How this affects sons specifically, has been at the root of discussions concerning African-American men and the reality of the absent male parent for years.
Statistics paint a grim picture of disengaged, sometimes criminal or negligent fathers, but this doesn't encompass the sprawl of the black fatherhood narrative, nor the individual experience, which is punctuated not merely by shades of gray, but varying levels of perception – often negative. Yet, the question remains: How do we effectively support black fathers in the community?
Family Assistance for Renaissance Men (FARM) is one answer to this question. Started in 2014, FARM's purpose is to reunite fathers with their children, as well as to assist in areas such as rehabilitation, father accountability counseling, father and child relationship building, education, skilled trades training and more.
Founder and executive director Willie Bell says that the nonprofit was developed as a result of his own fatherlessness and "mistakes that followed and a desire to help other fathers to get it right in the lives of their children."
Bell offers mentoring and an eight- to 13-week program that runs Monday through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. "The second of my five components is a 'Father and Child Relationship Building' program, which, coupled with my partnership with Wayne State University School of Social Work helps reconnect fathers with their children – even those who may have never seen their children," he says.
Each program, in a way, is designed to complement a father's skillset, interests and inclination. "For fathers and men who lived their lives mostly by hustling in the streets, we offer them our Skill Building Workforce Development Training, which is taught by licensed plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masonry/cement trainers and others," Bell says. "We provide job placement following training."
According to Bell the most popular aspect of FARM is its legal assistance services with a total of 11 judges supporting the organization's work with one retired federal child support justice as a board member. "Additionally, we rotate between seven attorneys helping these men with their legal issues as well," Bell says.
These systems are meant to help build up the men in the program by providing essential access to services that can smooth the road for fathers to be a viable and positive part of their children's lives – something that is difficult to do at times without gainful employment, training or even housing.
"Our housing component not only helps fathers locate housing, but with our partnership with the Detroit Land Bank Authority, we use vacant houses and renovate them and allow these fathers an opportunity to live in them once the property is refurbished," Bell says.
He adds that most of FARM's clients are African-American men from the Wayne County Court system. "Wayne County has the largest child support docket by far – 10 times any other county in the entire state of Michigan," he says.
For more information, call (313) 717-2882 or visit farm-mi.org.